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Three Exuberantly Modern Houses Are Being Built in Evanston

With nods to Prairie and Craftsman, the 5,000-square-foot mini-manses are selling for around $1.4 million.

The eventual look of three modernist new-builds in Northeast Evanston.   Rendering: Courtesy @properties

Price: $1.425 million

Earlier this year, vestiges of the Salerno Cookie fortune on Evanston’s Leonard Avenue, opposite City Hall, were wiped away for a trio of modernist mini-mansions. A much greater loss happening at about the same time was the demolition of an Art Deco Salerno factory in Humboldt Park. The old Evanston structures, a large house and two service houses, were in a bad way and had sat vacant since the eighties. Only inertia (and an off-site owner resistant to sale) had prevented their removal over the years. Finally, in their stead come three angular showpieces—an unusual look for Northeast Evanston just outside of two historic districts.

Stylistically, there isn’t much precedent for these 5,000-square-footers in Evanston, particularly at this price point. “We landed on modern with allusions to Prairie and Craftsman after searching the neighborhood’s housing styles for gaps to fill,” says architect Linc Thelen of Linc Thelen Design. The window shapes, the combination of flat and pitched roof sections, and the use of stucco in the facade allude to these locally prominent schools of design. “There was extra value in doing something different here,” adds broker John Wyman of @properties, also involved in the planning. “All the neocolonial new-builds are fine, but this is an international town with room for broader offerings.”

BKM Development, a newer builder who has partnered with Wyman on a few Edgewater homes, is working the project. The big thing, and where the assurance lies for this spec venture, is that in the $1.2 to $1.5 million bracket in Evanston you almost exclusively find large old homes. Odds are good they’ll have deferred maintenance. In established residential neighborhoods, there hasn’t really been a wave of construction since the sixties.

For each house, Thelen executed an open floor plan with gray tones, a floating staircase, and varied ceiling heights. Because the houses are built on a slope, the main floor is lofted several feet above ground, which makes them seem taller than their two stories. Exposures are oriented north, south, and west, toward the down slope. Shifting levels play up this irregularity—the kitchen and front living and dining area are the highest point, with 10-foot ceilings, while the back living space steps down three feet to be closer to the yard. The 36 inches lopped off the bottom are in turn added to ceiling height.

The upstairs has four decently-sized bedrooms, each with a piece of vaulted ceiling. A run of transom windows in the hallway and a focus on south windows makes for sustained natural lighting. A fifth bedroom, meant for guests, is in the basement alongside a large media room—only half-sunken, and maintaining a normal ceiling height, thanks to the slope. The homes have three full- and one half-bath.

Further differentiating these new-builds from extant stock in Evanston is the inclusion of coach houses. “The coach houses were a revelation for us,” says Wyman. “We found out after we acquired the land and before we knew what we were building that Evanston changed their policy recently to allow new coach house construction.”

A development of 19 single-family houses called Kendall Place built the first new coach houses since the code change—the first in several decades—and as far as I can tell BKM’s homes are the second to do so. Both offerings are, in reality, small studio apartments or in-law units of about 400 square feet above a two-car garage (building codes still enforce strict limits to the height and yard coverage of any accessory structures). They’ll have bathrooms and kitchenettes so as to stand independent of the main house, but it’s a tough ask to sleep more than one body there longterm.

Price Points: Everything’s coming up aces so far on the sales side. There’s a contract on one house that will close when the property is move-in ready in November or December. It comes from a corporate executive relocating to the region from down south. Wyman wouldn’t get more specific than that. I’m told a contract is expected on the other framed house, with a city buyer, in the next week. And crews will break ground on the third and final house by month’s end, for which there’s at least one interested party.

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